Social Media: How to Embrace the Worldwide Phenomena & Harness Its Power (Part 3)

Part 3: 7 General Guidelines to Keep in Mind When Adopting a Social Media Strategy

1. What Works For Me, May Not Work For You

Social media demands a personalised approach. All forms are not for all companies. For instance, Facebook and Twitter are ideal for Curbside Cupcakes but a blog might not be a worthwhile effort. The best approach is to learn about all of the social media avenues, analyze how they can help your company, devise a strategy, define your goal and get to work.

Start by accumulating some online property. Ideally, begin by adopting tools that don’t require constant updating or more than a quick check up now and then like a LinkedIn profile, a Wikipedia write-up, or a Flickr account. Then slowly expand into more time-consuming technologies like Facebook, Twitter or a blog.

You have a better chance at success when you coordinate several social media tools and encourage your community to move around all of your platforms. Ultimately, your blog readers should become your facebook fans and your facebook fans should keep up with your blog and your Twitter followers should check out your blog and your facebook page. A coordinated strategy is the most effective strategy.

2. Give Your Business A Personality

To use social media successfully, you must think of it as a virtual representation of your business. Write a personality profile for your company. What do you represent? What characteristics do you want to be associated with? What traits are your customers drawn to?

This profile will set the tone for all interactions within the marketplace. This tends to be more straightforward if you are self-employed. If your clients already know and like you as the funny, quick-witted marketing strategist or realistic, health-conscious personal trainer, then that should be how you represent yourself online. If you’re representing a company, humanise your brand by giving it personality traits that will appeal to your customer and stay true to your core practices. Keep in mind that sincerity is key. And no one wins more clients by being a “Debbie Downer,” so strive to avoid negativity and harping on your competition.

3. Don’t Just Sit Silently By, Find Your Voice

Content drives action. A successful online strategy involves getting as much quality content out into the cyber world as possible whether through press releases, blog posts, magazine editorials or website hits.

The two primary reasons people use the Internet is to search and browse. Thanks to search engines, the more content on the web, the more times your company will be found, the more exposure you get and the a higher your chances of getting the attention of a potential customer as he or she surfs the web.

Blogs are a great way to use your voice online. Many people build entire careers around their blog as journalists, conference organisers, peers and consumers discover it in their searches. However, like other social media, the most successful of blogs have a clear theme, distinct and consistent personality, and are updated on a regular basis. The quality over quantity maxim should be strictly adhered to.

Strive to put out engaging, compelling content. Resist the urge to use your tweets and posts to only talk about your products. “Low, low, low prices!” or “Free shipping this week only!” is not going to get people to talk about you. Create triggers that encourage people to share you with their contacts by offering a solution to a common problem or something that people will find valuable, interesting, funny or newsworthy. And, take advantage of as many types of media as possible to keep your audience interested and entertained by including links, graphics, pictures and videos.

4. Get Involved in the Conversation

So you have a Facebook page, Twitter account and blog. You’re updating regularly, friending and following all while staying true to your company’s personality and think you’ve got the hang of this social media thing. But, you’re missing out on one of the best things the online community has to offer. If you’re only ever putting out information and reading others, then you’re not truly involved in the conversation.

If you’re not commenting on other blogs, tweets and facebook comments, you might as well be standing in the corner at a networking function while everyone around you is introducing themselves, sharing ideas, having debates, making connections. Jump into the conversation! Make connections and form relationships.

Social media provides you with a direct line to your consumers. Few opportunities to monitor consumer feedback exist that are as effective and valuable as social media. Here you can tap into your clients’ thoughts, feelings, concerns and suggestions for free! The more you know about your target demographic, the better able you will be to create a successful marketing campaign, improve your products and services, and, ultimately, better your business.

5. Be Imaginative

The online world is your playground. A lot of social media technologies and tools are much more affordable, than traditional marketing efforts. This paired with the short-term memory of the collective online community, you have the opportunity to take educated risks. Push the envelope cleverly and confidently. The key is keep an open mind and don’t give up too easily.

Immediate, lasting results are the exception. The standard rule is to dedicate yourself to a strategy for at least three months. If after that, your numbers are stable or painfully crawling upward, re-evaluate your strategy and try to inject some energy into your campaign with some new tactics. Remember, it is trial and error.

As with other forms of advertising, it is difficult to measure the return on investment of social media in dollars and cents. The best way is to ask your clients and contacts “How did you learn about me?” Although, this method is also flawed because those who found you through a Google search, may just say “Google” rather than being more specific by saying, “Your blog,” “Your website,” “A quote of yours was used in an online article I came across while searching for….”.

So keep surveying your clients, monitoring Google Alerts and watching the number of your followers for signs of success. The bigger your online community, the more stable your brand and better your opportunities.

6. Take the Good With the Bad

Part of the social media success story is that it directly appeals to the consumer culture of transparency and honesty. Consumers are drawn to companies they feel they can trust because that company is open and honest.

A good example of this is IBM’s network of blogs. IBM employees are given the green light to blog about their experiences, projects and work in general, which gives consumers insight into the company.

Another great example is the Sun Microsystem’s CEO blog. Jonathan Schwartz’s CEO blog gets 400,000 hits a month. But, while the number of readers is impressive, the openness is even more so. Positive, negative and even the inane comments are allowed which says to readers, “We’ve got nothing to hide.” Transparency from the highest level down earns consumers’ trust. And by taking the good with the bad, a company is better able to grow and improve.

7. Don’t Underestimate The Power of Social Media

The most common mistake businesses make when approaching social media is they seriously underestimate the power of it. They flippantly assign it to someone’s job description without a further thought or they set up a profile or account and forget about it. Social media can be a very powerful arm of your marketing strategy if you take it seriously. Conversely, if not handled well it can do damage to your reputation. A story from Ford is a perfect example of how social media can help to quell a potentially catastrophic PR mess.

The Internet can be your worst nightmare if a reputation-damaging story goes viral before you can get a handle on it. In Ford’s case an internal mistake was made which involved cease and desist letters being sent out to forum owners using the Ford trademark. People were furious and furious people love to vent on the Internet. But, disaster was diverted because Ford’s community manager was quick to get on top of the story, using social media to keep people informed every step of the way as the mistake was being fixed and appeasing the discontent. This level of transparency and access to constant information helped stop a negative story that could damage the company’s reputation from going viral.

If you have never tried, Google your company’s name. You may be surprised by what comes up. Part of your PR strategy should be to keep an eye on Google Alerts and Twitter Searches that can keep tabs on what is being said about your company.

Choosing to keep your head in the sand and ignore the online network is not only to lose the opportunity to manage your reputation but the opportunity to shape your reputation. Silly, really.

Key Points To Remember…

  • Humanize your company by putting forth a consistent and coordinated effort that is true to your brand’s personality
  • Embrace the social media culture of transparency and honesty while managing your brand’s reputation (sincerity is key)
  • Look for opportunities to reach out and network with peers and clients, both current and potential, with your overall strategic marketing plan at the forefront of your mind
  • Blend offline marketing techniques with online efforts to build a community around your brand
  • Push the envelope in a clever, confidant way
  • Take advantage of as many types of media as possible to keep your audience interested by including links, graphics, pictures, videos, and so on.
  • Empower and connect with your consumer by encouraging their input and comments, and directly interacting with them
  • Increase your knowledge about your target demographic

Good luck!

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Allison Baker is the Co-Founder of HireMeUp.com.au and has extensive experience as a social media strategist and marketing consultant.

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